Over the last few weeks, we have watched as ATI lent his influence, voice and spirit to what one may observe as part of the economic justice for (young) Batswana movement.
The social movement, although not formalised, is evident in the concerns and memes shared about the impact of COVID-19 interventions in the country; and the displeasures raised by many Batswana of government’s lack of critical engagement with the socio-economic impacts of the interventions.
The movement has been brewing for far longer than the COVID-19 interventions, which have incidentally aggravated the impacts of government’s seeming lack of concern. There is very clearly an undercurrent of anger and disapprovals of government’s chosen causes of action in many instances.
With many reports miring our leaders down with questionable practices, Batswana are frustrated that the nation, and more specifically the youth, bear the brunt of alleged mismanagement of state funds.
For purposes of this article, a movement is neither a political party, nor an interested group. Movements are usually not made up of political elites or those with access to political power.
On the other hand, a movement is also not a trend which is fleeting with no goals, objectives or aims.
Although informal, social movements are organised. Their aims may be specific and aimed at an articulated policy change, or broader cultural change. Social movements engage with conflictual relations, and they have very clearly identified opponents.
I would argue that social movements, although not so common in our country, are a healthy component of any democratic state.
They keep the state in check, particularly where the state is blindsided, neglectful or where for whatever other reason, it fails to act accordingly and responsibly. Increased industrialisation results in the marginalisation and alienation among individuals and groups based on the breaking down of traditional structures. An effectively functioning government recognises this and ensures that
Although many refer to his expression of frustrations as lashing out, his concerns are clear.
Where he is unable to clearly articulate them, the movement does so on his, and their own behalf. It is nothing new. In resonance with young Batswana, ATI expresses frustrations over an absence of opportunities and a lack of clear programming for Batswana youth, especially during this time.
His message, as articulated by a local television station, is against the corrupt practices which place naturalised Batswana in advantageous positions over native Batswana.
His opponent, is clearly the government, which, in my view is why he demands to see its leader, the president.
While the president may decline the repeated invitations to engage, there are other structures in place, which should, as a matter of responsibility, ensure that the message is not lost with the passage of time.
The silence of the Botswana National Youth Council, a body mandated to “primarily facilitate, coordinate and implement youth-focused activities in the non-governmental sector,” is rather deafening. The council whose core business is advocacy and lobbying, and whose board currently comprises of some of the most vibrant youth community and thought leaders in Botswana, have the capacity, access and resources, as lauded by their website, to ensure research and support for advocacy which would better capacitate the movement to adequately organise, grow and effectively hold government accountable for the marginalisation of Batswana youth.
The loud silence creates the space for some to assume that perhaps if the board members speak, they will be asked, “o ja ka ofe, o bua ka ofe?!”
This movement in Botswana has, for many years, stagnated in a preliminary or its inceptive stage, the emergence or “social ferment”. Although discontent was widespread and shared among friends, about differential treatment, indirect racism, and racism in numerous industries, the concerns were not articulated beyond this, except maybe by Omphile Sehurutse, much to the amusement of many Batswana.
The movement has moved beyond emergence, however and is arguably coalescing. The concerns are becoming focalised and collective.
The act of arresting ATI aided his emergence as a leader of the movement, as many congregated to demand his release. The congregation of the masses displays their power, and creates the opportunity to clearly state the demands of the movement. Ideally, the BNYC, with its lobbying and organised advocacy expertise, should intervene, offer guidance and direction at this very point, to ensure that the movement does not, like many other before it, die before its formalisation and the realisation of its objectives. To survive the third stage of movement building, formalisation or beaurocratisation, there are technical need which cannot be ignored. The third stage directs that the movement will no longer depend of rallies alone. At the third stage, the political power of the movement will be more powerful than previously, and this would create greater access to the political elites.
Many movements fizzle out before reaching this stage.
We have seen it with various movements, which have unfortunately been unable to realise their aims, before declining. The culture of failing to sustain the excitement which is needed to continuously mobilise, means that a lot of movements are dissolved before they arrive here.
It is neither unusual nor unfitting, for an artist to politically take a position on issues, and to find themselves established public spokespersons for such issues.
In many instances, artists are paid, or recognised and endorsed by institutions, or organisations to become spokespersons, ambassadors, or champions of campaigns.
The effect is usually a de-radicalisation and de-politicisation of the artist due to various factors, not the least of which is alignment with government or large corporations or organisations which are themselves, publicly apolitical.
In Botswana, arguably a lot of movements are silenced through alliances with government – of course you cannot bite the hand that feeds you.
It is necessary, however, to keenly pay attention to those who stand up against government. They are the ones who decide on the leaders of a country. They are the ones who hold the power!